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Christmas 1, Cycle B

Christmas: Dreams realized! The texts focus us on an awareness of how the Christ who has come to us in Christmas fulfills all our best hopes. Justification by Grace and Sanctification, along with Christology, are the predominant themes.

Psalm 148
A hymn calling on all created things (including animals, trees, mountains, stars, and angels) to praise God. Creation is said to transpire by his command or word (John 1). The reference to “horn” [geren] in verse 14 refers to God’s strength and power. In short, the Psalm claims that Yahweh has raised up strength for his People. Our strength politically, it seems, is his work.

Application: If the reference to God’s word is interpreted Christologically in terms of John 1, then sermons might be developed along the lines of the Christmas season and the theme that the babe in the manger is the all-powerful Creator. Other options for sermons on the text include making links to the praise we give Christ and Christmas, with an awareness that creation itself praises him (Creation and Sanctification). Likewise the awareness that our strength (even America’s political strength) is God’s work reminds us that the good things in our nation are God’s gift (Social Ethics).

Isaiah 61:10–62:3
It is well-known that this book is actually the product of two or three distinct literary traditions. The first 39 chapters are the work of the historical prophet who proclaimed a message to Jerusalem and the Southern Kingdom of Judah from 742 BC to 701 BC, a period during which the Northern Kingdom of Israel had been annexed by the Assyrian empire. Chapters 40-66 emerged in the later period immediately before the fall of Babylon (in 539 BC). A hypothesized third section (chapters 56-66) of the book, perhaps written by Second Isaiah or be one of his disciples in view of the close stylistic similarities to chapter 40, begins at the conclusion of the Babylonian Captivity and is likely written after the restoration of exiled Judah, expressing some disappointment about what has transpired since the exiles’ return. This lesson is the work of this last section (called Trito-Isaiah).

It is unclear whether the final verses of chapter 61 are words of the prophet or of the suffering servant of Deutero-Isaiah (especially 50:4-11). When combined with verses in chapter 62 it seems more stylistically appropriate to interpret the whole lesson as the prophet’s proclamation of the Hebrews’ vindication. The exiles’ return to Judah will be seen by all nations, it is proclaimed. The new name of the nation that the Lord will give it denotes a change in its status (v. 2). The people of Israel will now be a crown of beauty [tiphereth] in the Lord’s hand [yad] (v. 3), totally God’s people. This vindication seems related to the people being clothed in salvation/safety [yesha] and righteousness [tsedeq], like a bride adorned with jewels (61:10). (A view of Justification as Forensic, being declared righteous by God, seems entailed here. This idea of righteousness as something bestowed by God on the faithful, as it is here, is not unusual in the later Old Testament period [von Rad, pp. 373, 376ff; cf. Isaiah 59:17].) Righteousness and so justification is a gift of God. Righteousness and praise are said to spring up from these shoots of righteousness (61:11). The spontaneity of good works seems taught (Sanctification).

Application: The lesson affords the opportunity for sermons on how God justifies sinners and makes them important and beautiful, people who can live significant lives (Sanctification and Justification by Grace).

Galatians 4:4-7
This book is a polemical letter written by Paul to a church he had founded in order to affirm that Gentiles need not become Jews in order to become Christian. In this lesson he addresses the enslavement of Christians under the law and how we get free. He refers to the coming of Christ, who, born of a woman under the law (stressing Jesus’ Jewish roots), redeems [exagorazo, literally "to acquire out of the forum"] us (vv. 4-5). His coming is eschatological (the fullness of time [pleroma tou chronou, a decisive moment] [v. 4]). As a result of Christ’s coming we are adopted [huiothesia] as God’s children (v. 5). The idea of being adopted fits the Forensic View of Justification described in the First Lesson. Consequently, the Spirit of the Son [pneuma tou huiou] (not the unity of the two) makes us relate to God as Father [Abba] (v. 6). No longer, then, are we slaves (v. 7).

Application: Sermons on this text can proclaim how Christ sets the Christian free, justifies us, atones for us, and makes us relate to God as a wonderful Father. This is also an occasion for sermons sorting out the relationship between the Son and the Spirit or about the Trinity.

Luke 2:22-40
We are again reminded that this gospel is the first installment of a two-part history of the Church traditionally attributed to Luke, a physician and Gentile associate of Paul (Colossians 4:14; 2 Timothy 4:11; Philemon 24). Along with Acts, the author’s intention was to stress the universal mission of the church (Acts 1:8). Addressed to Theophilus (1:1), it is not clear if this means that the work was written for a recent convert or for a Roman official from whom the church sought tolerance. But since Theophilus means “lover of God,” it is possible that the author addressed all the faithful. This lesson is the story of Jesus’ Presentation in the Temple in Jerusalem and encounter with Simeon and Anna. This is another account unique to Luke.

It seems that first-time mothers in Israel were to submit to rites of purification (Leviticus 12:2-8) and the firstborn were to be set apart for service to God (Exodus 13:2, 12), which accounts for Jesus’ Presentation and the offering of a sacrifice (vv. 22-24). The devout Simeon looking for the messiah and the aged prophet Anna are introduced (vv. 25-26, 36-37). Simeon seeking the “consolation” [paraklesis, literally a "going alongside"] of Israel refers to the salvation or Israel’s independence that the Messiah would bring (Isaiah 40:7). Both recognize that Jesus will bring salvation [soterion] to Israel (vv. 27-32, 38). Simeon proceeds to praise God for letting him see the Messiah by offering a song, the Nunc Dimittis (vv. 29-32), used to this day in communion liturgies. Simeon sings that he is ready to die, ready to leave, since he has seen the Messiah and the hope of salvation. The “peace” [eirene] referred to should be interpreted in terms of the Jewish idea of shalom, completeness and well-being. The hymn continues, noting that the child will be a revelation for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews. Simeon also prophesies that the child Jesus will cause division among Israel, some falling and others rising as they respond to him (vv. 34-35). It is reported that when Anna saw Jesus she began to praise God and speak of the child to all seeking Jerusalem’s redemption [lutrowsin] (v. 38). Luke simply reports Mary’s and Joseph’s amazement over this praise for their child (v. 33), their return to Nazareth (but only after scrupulously following the law) (v. 39), and the subsequent maturation of Jesus, his strength and wisdom [sophia] (v. 40).

Application: A sermon on this text can focus on the eschatological promise of the babe in the manger, how he redeems us, makes the dream of the good life more real than what presently appears to be the case. Realized Eschatology and God’s hidden ways (Providence) are the primary themes.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen